I find myself dragging my feet lately when it comes to literature, which is ironic because Fahrenheit 451 is a little about a crisis of faith and book burning. I decided a while ago that I have wanted to revisit this one, partly because it is one of my all time favourite reads and also because it marked the point where reading became a much larger part of my life. I can’t say the two were especially related but the perhaps the undertones of the novel did have a bigger influence than I’m admitting. In Bradbury’s world all books have been banned and those who have them have their homes burnt for it.
It is one of my personal nightmares to have books banned and burnt. It is also one of my personal nightmares for books to die out entirely and reality tv to take over the masses. This is the world that Bradbury paints, shockingly two-dimensional wives glued to tv walls, engaging in no-narrative nonsensical tv ‘families’ and denying the reality of having their stomachs pumped at night when they neck a bottle of pills. This is a world where ignorance runs riot and everyone is unhappy but pretends they are not.
Guy Montage is our protagonist, a book burning Fireman, a little out of sorts with his place in the world and with his home life. He suppresses his sadness and has a good mask as he begins the novel, he has accepted the hand he has been dealt and seems to be pulling up his socks and carrying on because it is his duty. The start of Guy’s spiral into his refusal to accept things as they are, is a chance meeting with a free thinking teenager. Clarisse is unlike anyone he has ever met before and they bond quickly. There are few people in this novel that acknowledge on-coming war, but Clarisse is one of them. After her tragic disappearance we witness Guy stealing books at work and hiding them at home. But bizarrely this is not his first time.
He begins his long struggle with the reality of what he is doing and his relationship with books. He has no real answers as to why he is doing this, it is an impulse, perhaps curiosity, perhaps he is also coming to terms with how much he despises the world he lives in and what it tells him. His wife finds out his secret of course and pressures him into confessing to his boss, Captain Beatty. Beatty gives some insights into why they burn books and the decline of trust in the written word. But he is also the kind of character you want to punch, right in his stupid face, ya know? Beatty has obviously read a lot of the books he has burnt on the sly and is quite candid with spouting quotes at Guy to provoke him.
But Guy has an ally during his struggle, Mr. Faber an old academic, attempts to console Guy and explains the central idea Bradbury tries to deliver with Fahrenheit 451. It seems Bradbury is trying to warn us against the dangers of new forms of media, and the impact that they will have on literature. Bradbury also hits on the censorship of information and considering this novel was written in the 50s the social comments on reality tv and misdirecting the audience is incredibly contemporary. This is not a novel that feels dated and it is a little disturbing.
The entire novel is set to the backdrop of a war that is over within two minutes, but society at large is oblivious or have no grasp of the danger they are in because they are spoon fed by media outlets. Brainwashed – is a word that comes to mind. This is novel that sits beside Orwell’s 1984 very happily and nods it’s head in slow agreement and invites it over for coffee. It is a haunting read that comments beautifully on people actively attempting to protect ignorance, regardless of the cost. I will certainly read this again.
It was a pleasure to burn. – p.9